Law firm loses appeal over ex-miner payout

A law firm ordered to pay an ex-miner thousands of pounds in damages after negligently advising him to abandon his claim for compensation has had its appeal rejected by leading judges.

Solicitor Robert Godfrey of Mellor Hargreaves

Barnsley-based Raleys argued that a county court judge was wrong to award Ronald Barnaby £5,925 after the firm persuaded him to abandon his claim for financial support, needed because of a debilitating condition caused by excessive use of power tools.

But the Court of Appeal rejected the bid, with Lord Justice Maurice Kay saying he was ‘entirely satisfied’ the judge had correctly assessed the facts of the case.

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He criticised solicitors for the firm, which has represented thousands of miners and secured millions in damages, for a “misjudged” attack on the honesty of Mr Barnaby, who worked at Kellingley Colliery for 26 years.

Raleys says the case is one of three where similar recent claims against them have been successful in court, but says others have been defeated or withdrawn without going to court.

Mr Barnaby, from Knottingley, said the symptoms of ‘vibration white finger’, which started before he retired from British Coal in 1992, meant he needed help with many household tasks.

After making a claim under the compensation scheme set up by the Department for Trade and Industry, with the help of Raleys, he settled a claim for £10,822.01 for general damages and handicap on the labour market.

He was entitled to claim for more money to pay for assistance needed with everyday tasks, but a county court judge ruled he wrongly abandoned this claim on advice from Raleys.

Lord Justice Kay said: “I am entirely satisfied that the judge correctly assessed the reality behind this litigation.” He added that while Mr Barnaby was a “poor historian and an unimpressive witness”, “the attack on his honesty, which was sustained and unequivocal, seems to me to have been misjudged”.

Robert Godfrey of Mellor Hargreaves Solicitors, representing Mr Barnaby, said: “The defendants have been intent on attacking this man’s honesty and integrity. The court observed that what was being put to him was that he was pursuing a fraudulent claim and was therefore dishonest.”

The Court of Appeal judgement said it was “well known” miners were susceptible to Vibration White Finger due to “excessive use of vibratory tools”.

Carol Gill of Raleys said: “This was the first of six similar but not identical ‘services’ claims against Raleys that have gone to court in recent months. Three failed and three succeeded. Of the two others that succeeded, we await an appeal date concerning the second, and have applied for an appeal concerning the third.”